Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How do you increase accessibility to research with a “closed access” institutional repository?

Mr. Amoni Gray Kapasule
presenting the paper
The second day of SCECSAL 2016 included a presentation of the paper - Revolutionizing Scholarly Communications Through Institutional Repositories: Empirical Findings from a University (college) in Malawi by Amoni Gray Kapasule & Winner Chawinga - which highlighted two key challenges facing most librarians in Africa when the embark on developing institutional repositories (IRs) as modes of providing access to their institutions’ knowledge resources. Challenges related to lack of support from or the unwillingness of the the researchers/lecturers to contribute content to the IRs, and the absence of an enabling institutional environment to facilitate opening access to research.

The paper, based on a study focusing on Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) Library’s institutional repository, indicated that among the reasons for establishing the IR by KCN were to increase accessibility to research outputs and to promote image of College through online visibility.

The findings of the study tell a different story and shows that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for KCN to achieve the above two objectives.

While 81% of the lecturers that took part in the study indicated that one major benefit of IRs is that they help to communicate research results, only 7% were contributing to the IR. Furthermore, the IR is only accessible on the local intranet.

How do you increase accessibility to research output when researchers/lecturers who generate the content are not contributing to the IR? How can you also enhance the image of the institution through online visibility when IR is not available to the wider community beyond the confines of the institution?

KCN Library is not the only library facing these challenges. There are many other libraries in Africa that are in the same boat.

Setting up institutional repositories to provide access to research outputs in most libraries in Africa is more of a fad than initiatives aimed at achieving objectives of opening access to the continent’s research. It is a question of our neighbours are have setup an IR and so we should also have one otherwise we will be seen as being lagging behind the trend. Genuine conviction to provide access to research outputs of the institutions, worse still to open access, is missing in most institutions.

Reluctance by the learned researchers/lecturers to contribute content to IR
Some of the challenges faced by KCN Library
initiatives is just one of the major challenge besieging librarians who embark on developing IRs. Absence of an enabling environment (national and institutional policies favourable to sharing research outputs with the outside world, institutional guidelines, and incentives to promote sharing of research), and the never ending technical challenges (lack of access to computers, poor internet connectivity in institutions even when better connectivity is available in the countries) impact on initiatives to open access to research.

If IR initiatives are to succeed in Africa, universities or institutions “should launch OA institutional repositories (IRs) and adopt effective policies to fill them with their research output. That is, they should actually provide OA to their research output, not just wish for it, request it, encourage it, settle for ineffective policies to provide it, or sign statements calling for it elsewhere

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